Edward III is a significant play as it spans the historical gap between Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II and the early Shakespeare play Richard II. It’s a good play, good enough to be considered in the same league as the Marlowe and Shakespeare plays, but its lack of attribution has led some commentators to wonder if perhaps some third party were responsible; in the nineteenth century, J.A. Symonds speculated, without irony, that Edward III may have been written “by some imitator of Shakespeare’s Marlowesque manner."3
Vickers, noting passages in the play which reminded him of the voice of Thomas Kyd (famous in his day as the creator of the influential and successful Spanish Tragedy), used word counting software to compare the play to the acknowledged works of Kyd and Shakespeare. Vickers came to the conclusion that Thomas Kyd had written some 60% of Edward III, with Shakespeare contributing the other 40%. This raises some interesting possibilities. If Vickers is right, then it would appear that Shakespeare would have collaborated with Thomas Kyd before May 1593, and therefore before Shakespeare’s name first appeared as a writer in June 1593.
In May 1593 Thomas Kyd had been arrested after “fragments of a disputation”—portions of a book which outlined the anti-trinitarian Arian heresy—were found in his possession. He was imprisoned for some time, and according to his own account, treated harshly by his jailors. Kyd emerged from prison a scandalized and broken man, shunned by his former employer, Lord Strange (the patron of Lord Strange’s Men, the group of players which would soon evolve into the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the company in which Shakespeare became sharer in 1594). Kyd never worked again; despite his protestations, he was unable to re-establish his reputation and win back the favour of Lord Strange or any other theatre company’s patron. By August 1594, Thomas Kyd was dead.
Vickers assigns to Shakespeare the first three acts of Edward III, plus another scene later on, suggesting that Shakespeare’s involvement predated Kyd’s. If true, this would mean that Shakespeare could have known Thomas Kyd and worked with him during the period when Kyd was associated with Lord Strange’s players. It’s an intriguing thought, and opens up wide latitude for speculation about Shakespeare’s involvement with Kyd, as well as others in Kyd’s circle, such as Lord Strange and Christopher Marlowe. There’s only one problem: there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever met Thomas Kyd. There is however, a writer who did know Thomas Kyd, and knew him quite well—Christopher Marlowe.
Kyd’s room had been searched when he fell under suspicion of being the author of the so-called “Dutch Church Libel,"4 a posted threat against London Huguenots, written in blank verse and laden with allusions to Marlowe’s plays. After his release, suspicion still hung over him and Kyd wrote to Sir John Puckering asking to have his name cleared. In the course of the conversation, Kyd revealed several details about his relationship with Marlowe, who by that time had been declared dead. The papers found in his possession that got him arrested, Kyd said, belonged to Marlowe.5 It must have gotten mixed in with his own papers, Kyd explained, during the period when he and Marlowe were writing together in the same chamber. Kyd reported—or perhaps reminded—that Marlowe had affirmed that the offending papers indeed were his.6
When I was first suspected for that Libel that concerned the State, amongst those waste and idle papers (which I cared not for) and which unasked I did deliver up, were found some fragments of a disputation touching that opinion, affirmed by Marlowe to be his, and shuffled with some of mine unknown to me by some occasion of our writing in one chamber two years since.7What were Kyd and Marlowe doing writing in the same chamber? Marlowe, according to Kyd, was a difficult man to deal with. If they were working on separate projects, there was no need for them to work in the same space. We do not know, but it is possible that they were working collaboratively, which would explain their writing in close quarters. If so, then their collaboration might still be in existence, given that Marlowe and Kyd were arguably the most popular playwrights in London at that time.
It turns out that Brian Vickers is not the only scholar who has done computer-assisted research trying to establish the authorship of Edward III. Tom Merriam, using a different yardstick, argued in 2000 that the play was “suggestive of a Marlovian framework, reworked and added to by Shakespeare."8 Merriam and Vickers both use what appear to be sound methodologies, yet arrive at very different conclusions.9
There is a solution which might satisfy both the literary and the historical evidence, but we would need to suspend for a moment the assumption that the Marlowe and Shakespeare plays were written by two different writers. When Tom Merriam identifies passages in Edward III that are similar to Marlowe’s and other passages that resemble Shakespeare, this is exactly what we would expect if Marlowe were the writer of both bodies of work.10 The play would necessarily resemble Marlowe’s plays in some places, and in other places would resemble the plays printed in Shakespeare’s name.
And when Brian Vickers identifies Thomas Kyd’s influence in the play, there is a ready answer for this, where none exists for Shakespeare, if it were Marlowe, not Shakespeare, whom Kyd collaborated with on Edward III. Documented evidence that he and Marlowe spent time writing together in the same chamber, during the period when Edward III was created, helps support this hypothesis.
There is a real possibility that a Marlowe/Kyd collaboration happened. The work of Tom Merriam and Brian Vickers suggests Edward III may be that play.
© Daryl Pinksen, May 2010
Daryl Pinksen, a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, is the author of Marlowe's Ghost, Grand Prize Winner of the 17th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.
See Daryl on YouTube discussing the Marlowe theory of Shakespeare authorship.
1Time Magazine. “Plagiarism Software Finds a New Shakespeare Play.” Oct. 20, 2009. http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1930971,00.html
2Full text of Edward III available online at Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1770
3Brooke, C. F. Tucker, ed. 1908. The Shakespeare Apocrypha: Being a Collection of Fourteen Plays Which Have Been Ascribed to Shakespeare. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. (1967 printing at the Oxford University Press, London). p. xxii.
4See “Peter Farey’s Marlowe Page” for a transcription. http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/libell.htm
5“On 12 May, in a dark scratchy hand, one of them [Kyd’s interrogators] endorsed the document with these words:
Vile hereticall conceipts denyinge the deity of Jhesus Christ our Savior, founde amongst the papers of Thos Kydd, prisoner.Then, in a different ink, he added: ‘wch he affirmeth that he had ffrom Marlowe’.” Nicholl, Charles. 2002. The Reckoning. Vintage: London. p. 50-51 for a transcription of Kyd’s arrest.
6Both Charles Nicholl (2002. The Reckoning. p. 353) and Constance Kuriyama (2002. Christopher Marlowe. p. 144) interpret Kyd’s claim of what Marlowe “affirmed to be his” was the opinions contained in the fragments, rather than the fragments themselves.
7Modern translation of a transcription from “Peter Farey’s Marlowe Page.” http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/kyd2.htm
8Merriam, Tom. “Edward III.” Literary and Linguistic Computing. Volume 15, No. 2, 2000. p.157.
9“[identifying co-authorship] is initially ‘subjective’, in the sense that all knowledge of the world is mediated through individual perceiving agents, but it can be formulated and tested objectively, once adequate methods have been evolved.” Vickers, Brian. 2002. Shakespeare, Co-Author. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 47.
10For a discussion of the closeness of the Shakespeare style to Marlowe’s, visit http://www.marloweshakespeare.org/MarloweScholarship.html
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